Wednesday, October 05, 2005

The Marble Douchebag

Roy notes a typically mournful post by the blogosphere's most intolerable gasbag/windbag/douchebag, Tacitus:

DOGS AND CATS, LIVING TOGETHER! Some Dutch people have staged a marital three-way, and the Values brigade, clad in togas, is crying "Vanitas!" which is Latin for "Damned fags."

To be fair, Tacitus' contempt, being classicist in style and Biblical in scope, reaches further back than the gay-nups thing: "No-fault divorce opened up a Pandora's box of easily-broken families... those wishing to pretend that a homosexual coupling constitutes marriage... decay of Western Civilization," etc. Then the dry-ice machine was revved up and he floated, one bony finger raised in reproach, back into his Temple.

As Professor Corncob says, read the whole thing, in which Roy notes the incongruity of Mr. Talking Statuary's complaint when Tacky and his party readily accept as moral something like, say, a company polluting a river to fatten its profit line. Republicans: moralists about sex, amoralists about things that count. Put another way, for Red State types, the worship of Mammon and, to shift mythologies, Ares (Tacitus's pseudoclassical style is contagious -- all the more reason to call for its extinction), is a wonderful thing indeed, but the enthusiastic worship of Eros and Ganymede (or if you're Andrew Sullivan on a lucky cybersearch, Priapus) is something worthy of damnation to Hades -- or, failing that, persecution at the hands of brownshirts who look to Santorum not only for ideological inspiration but also, presumably, for fabric dye.

As usual, Roy does great justice to the subject, and is a lot nicer about it than I could be. He even gives Tacitus credit for being consistently reactionary instead of being, as are so many other wingnuts, emphatic about the subject only where homosexuals are concerned.

Fine, he's not especially homophobic, but this is only compared to his fellow nutcases. Damning with faint praise can work for flesh and blood opponents, but marble can only be crushed with a sledgehammer. So let's get to swinging:

If the experiences of social legislation of the past half century have taught us anything, it is that tinkering with the basic institutions of family and moral structure by government fiat -- however well-intended -- is usually unwise and fraught with unintended consequences. No-fault divorce opened up a Pandora's box of easily-broken families and maladjusted single-parent youth; poorly-designed social welfare programs weakened family bonds to an oft-fatal degree; and now we see that the "civil union," intended as a sop for those wishing to pretend that a homosexual coupling constitutes marriage, is opening the door to polygamy. As is its wont in matters of the decay of Western civilization, the Netherlands is leading the way.

Senator Santorum, I believe that's your vindication.

First, some words about prose style. The quoted passage exhibits not a passing resemblance of classicism but a windy, stilted ("oft-fatal"?) affectation along the lines of an eighth grader's attempt to mime Henry James. So majesterial, so florid... trying so hard. Yeah. Classicism -- or its reasonable facsimile -- is hard and lean. Pithy. I admit I can't pull it off but that doesn't prevent me from seeing how spectacularly others fail at it. Tacitus's aim is gravitas; his effect is pure chloroform, however. His style serves the same purpose to the reader as Glenn Reynolds's content: to inspire wrist-slitting, begging-to-be-shot-in-the-head boredom. As far as style and content goes, Tacitus most resembles George F. Will in his most pompous and annoying period. If this is classicism, the sound you just heard was Cicero begging to be killed properly all over again.*

And what kind of megalomanical fuckwit would call himself Tacitus, anyway? digamma's the kind of classicist name one can respect, but Tacitus? Please. I mentioned this on the wingnut all-star post but I'll say it again: I used to enter chatrooms as "The Emperor Julian" and "alkibiades" but for the purposes of acting intentionally belligerent to the bad sort of Christians (with the former) or silly and lispy (with the latter). Fun. Humor. Even poorly executed, these are foriegn concepts to Josh "Tacitus" Trevino.

Now for the substance: the argument itself is classical, if one considers a wingnut trope dating back to Eisenhower to be classic. In the 50s the first railings against allegedly hedonistic European social democracies were minted; the country usually mentioned was Sweden. Now it's Holland, which is no problem for the vast majority of Tacitus's red state comrades, clay-eating white trash who are certain that pretty much anywhere in Northrun Yoorup, Satan's at work encouragin abortion, suicide, atheism and redistrabyooshun of wealth among those commie bastards. On the other hand, thanks to Tacitus's link, some of them may look up Portugal, smiley-face turning back to frown when they realise it's a country of idolatrous Papists. Oh well.

Anyway, for years progressive Euro democracies have been loathed by wingnuttia as permissive, which nicely dovetails with Tacitus's greater leitmotif of the decline of western civilisation (and you thought it was a punk rock movie).

Which, after noting Tacitus's servile Santorum reference, brings me back to Roy's post's title. Gay marriage, legal threesomes: for Tacitus and Santorum, these are but preludes to the total annihilation of the family unit. At root, that's how they see it: as nihilism. Hence the assumption that liberals will degrade society to the point that it will make just as much moral sense for a man to marry a dog, as Senator Santorum admitted in a carelessly honest moment. Forget love, forget legal pragmatism, forget human nature (which is, ironically, what conservatives otherwise like to say they never forget): these are of no concern when the Bible commands otherwise!

Of course all that's obvious. We're dealing with the American Taliban here, after all. Less obvious, but interesting and particularly wounding to The Marble Douchebag who likes to think he's Master of History as well as Lord of Language, is the concern expressed in the first comment to the post (how did it slip through their filter?):

There is nothing inherently earth-shattering about polygamy. Lots of societies have had it (or still do) and they actually WORK as societies. Hell's bells, in Utah, polygamy is STILL going on in not so small ways (I lived there for 7 years: polygamy DOES exist all over the place there). The ONLY problem with it in Utah is that is usually is coercive, involves minors being given to adults (uncles, cousins) as if they are property.

As long as adults are fully and absolutely not coerced in any way, and as long as they have full choice to leave (not enslaved to an institution of any type), then I can't complain, and neither can you. It is NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE DOING, AS CONSENTING FREE ADULTS, IN THEIR PRIVATE LIVES. Sheesh. Worry about what's going on (or not going on, poor prudes) in your own bedrooms. It is not your place to dig into anyone else's.

This is the historically and anthropologically informed civil libertarian counter-argument which functions as Vandal to our Roman wannabe. One could add that de facto polygamy was the rule rather than the exception throughout the history of Western Civ, at least among those who could afford it. While it's true that marriage was an inelastic institution for the Greeks and Romans, this had nothing to do with sexuality and everything to do with orderly inheritance of property. Well, that and structural misogyny, which explains much of its allure to wingnuts. In practice, everyone had lovers; the Euros (and especially in the last couple centuries, the French) are more worthy heirs of Western sexual tradition than we. And the Old Testament endorses it, too.

The chaste-until-married, thereafter exclusively monogamous, flamingly heterosexual past that the Marble Douchebag and his comrades seek to return to never existed. It's a myth. Well, the Romans believed in their myths, too. In only this sense does the intolerable, pompous fucktard known as Tacitus resemble the classical past.

*Edit: I revised this sentence; a better comparison had slipped my mind.